Seattle poet Paul E. Nelson says listening is a lost art.
For 20 years, in his role as founding director of the Seattle Poetics Lab and a syndicated radio host, Nelson learned the value of listening first hand, conducting more than 600 interviews with poets, writers, activists and leaders.
Now, Nelsons’s favourite interviews, including talks with beat poets Allen Ginsberg and Michael McClure, have been compiled in his new book, American Prophets. Nelson said the book has been a long time in the making.
“When we started doing the interview show it became very clear to us that poets were prophetic. They were giving us the juice…” he said. “Just doing the radio show increased my interest in poetry and my understanding of poetry as a model for, as Michael McClure would say, ‘building one’s soul.’”
Nelson is marking the release of American Prophets by offering a series of interview workshops in the Pacific Northwest. On Feb. 16 he’s holding a workshop at Nanaimo North Library and he’s back in the Harbour City on Feb. 20 to perform at the 15 Minutes of Infamy spoken word night at the Green Olive Room.
In his workshop, Nelson will cover research tips and interview methods and that have worked for him, like balancing preparation and improvisation. He said interviews skills are useful for writers.
“A writer needs material to work. A writer needs language. A writer needs sources. Reading them is an excellent way to get that, but a more direct way is to find a subject who you think has some value and ask them in a moment to answer questions that you would find of interest,” Nelson said.
He added that his interviews with poets exposed him to ideas he wasn’t familiar with at the time, but made sense on an intuitive basis and came to inform his own practice.
“Allen Ginsberg talking about open form, talking about North American poetry, having a strong commitment to that, tying it in with Buddhism, comparing it to meditation, these were all things that made sense to me and have only been proven in the 25 years that I interviewed him,” he said. “Michael McClure talking about projective verse and a spontaneous method of composition that is really a more direct soul-building practice than other methods of poetry composition. And I’ve had a good 24 years since that moment to put that into practice and to realize what he was saying was very very true.”
WHAT’S ON … Paul E. Nelson presents Learn to Interview at Nanaimo North Library on Saturday, Feb. 16 from 2 to 4:30 p.m. Registration $55, includes copy of book American Prophets, available here. Nelson also performs at 15 Minutes of Infamy on Feb. 20 at the Green Olive Room, 15 Skinner St., at 7 p.m.